From doo-wop to disco and rock to rap, you can learn a great deal about the history of music from the songs of summer from the last 60 years. Throughout the decades, pop music has evolved through different genres, stars have risen and fallen, and new technology has led to radically different-sounding hits. Many songs of the summer share similar sounds, though: bright lyrical content, upbeat tempos, and warm instrumentals (pun intended).
Of course, there's no national body that crowns the song of the summer. So, Billboard analyzed the performance of its past charts from Memorial Day to Labor Day of various songs each year. Awarding 100 points to a song that charted at #1 for a week, and one point to a song that charted at #100, Billboard generated the following songs of the summer and their runners-up.
The list begins with one of three non-English entries and the most classical-inspired piece on the list and moves from there to rock ‘n' roll, Motown, classic rock, and folk-rock, all before hitting the ‘80s. As synths began to replace screeching electric guitars, pop stars like Madonna and Mariah Carey rose to prominence. The era of electropop had begun.
Then, in the mid-90s, a shift began—the effects of which are still manipulating the charts to this day. Hip-hop had arrived in the nationwide consciousness, bringing new techniques like sampling and rapping to pop music. There isn't a more jarring transition on this list than going from Bryan Adams straight to Sir Mix-A-Lot. Though more traditional pop songs have found their way to the summer charts, the hip-hop takeover is still underway with the supremacy of artists like Drake and Lil Nas X, who arguably has the current song of the summer with “Old Town Road.”
Perhaps the next wave to take over the charts will come from another underground movement, and displace hip-hop the same way it displaced traditional pop itself. “Old Town Road” is notable for mixing country elements with hip-hop to create a novel hybrid; maybe the future of music lies not in strict genres, but a blend of many elements. In any case, read on to remember which song was blasting out of car windows the year you finished high school, and don't forget to check out our curated playlist of all the winners.
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- #1: "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volar)" by Domenico Modugno
- #2: "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson
- #3: "Patricia" by Perez Prado And His Orchestra
One of three non-English hits on our list, this classical-inspired song's simple chorus of “Fly! Sing!” sounds much better in Italian than English. Covered by everyone from Dean Martin to David Bowie, the song was originally an entry in the Eurovision song contest. It came in third.
- #1: "Lonely Boy" by Paul Anka
- #2: "The Battle Of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton
- #3: "A Big Hunk O' Love" by Elvis Presley With The Jordanaires
“I've got everything / You could think of / But all I want / Is someone to love,” goes the straightforward verse of this 2.5-minute hit summer song from 1959. Anka sang the song in the film “Girls Town,” which was featured on an episode of the TV comedy “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
- #1: "I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee
- #2: "It's Now Or Never" by Elvis Presley With The Jordanaires
- #3: "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" by Connie Francis
Brenda Lee performed “I'm Sorry” at just 15 years old and it went on to hit #1 on the Billboard chart. Lately, it's had a bit of a modern renaissance with appearances in Beyonce's 2016 “Formation World Tour” concert movie and in the Netflix show “The End of the F***ing World.”
- #1: "Tossin' and Turnin" by Bobby Lewis
- #2: "Quarter to Three" by U.S. Bonds
- #3: "The Boll Weevil" by Brook Benton
Maybe you don't remember “Girls Town” (mentioned on slide #3), but you've probably heard of “Animal House,” the frat movie that launched a genre of gross-out comedies. “Tossin' and Turnin'” was featured on the soundtrack, though it had a successful Billboard run on its own back in ‘61. It's been covered since by such musicians as The Supremes and Joan Jett.
- #1: "Roses Are Red (My Love)" by Bobby Vinton
- #2: "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles
- #3: "The Stripper" by David Rose And His Orchestra
One musician's trash is another singer's treasure; at least, that's how Bobby Vinton found “Roses Are Red,” which was tossed in a pile of rejects at Epic Records. Another 2.5-minute ditty, the song evokes the sounds of the time, now considered “oldies.”
- #1: "Fingertips - Pt. 2" by Little Stevie Wonder
- #2: "Surf City" by Jan & Dean
- #3: "Easier Said Than Done" by The Essex
The last song had a much more laidback tempo; “Fingertips” blasts off immediately with “Little Stevie” imploring the crowd to clap their hands amid brass horns blaring and harmonica solos. Listen closely and you can hear Marvin Gaye on drums, years before he became a superstar.
- #1: "Where Did Our Love Go" by The Supremes
- #2: "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys
- #3: "Everybody Loves Somebody" by Dean Martin
If Stevie wasn't enough of a clue, the influence of Motown in American pop music had begun by the early '60s. With big hair and bigger grooves, “Where Did Our Love Go” was one of several Supremes hits to go #1. At first, they doubted the song because it lacked a catchy hook, but Diana Ross' powerful lead vocals led it to the history books.
- #1: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones
- #2: "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" by Four Tops
- #3: "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher
In the mid-'60s, the ghost of Paul Revere turned in his grave as the British Invasion began. “Satisfaction” landed the Rolling Stones their first #1 in the U.S., making the ditty the song of the summer. Curiously, The Beatles are absent from this list entirely.
- #1: "Wild Thing" by The Troggs
- #2: "Summer In the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful
- #3: "Lil' Red Riding Hood" by Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs
Continuing on with the British invasion is “Wild Thing,” a straightforward song about passionate love. Composed in just a few minutes according to legend, the song would eventually become an instant emblem of mid-60s rock. Notable covers include one by Jimi Hendrix, who lit his guitar on fire after a live performance. The parody cover by Kit Harington, better known as Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones,” and Coldplay, though, didn't do much for its reputation.
- #1: "Light My Fire" by The Doors
- #2: "Windy" by The Association
- #3: "Can't Take My Eyes off You" by Frankie Valli
Don't give the British all the credit, though; Americans eventually caught on to the style: With its jazzy drums and catchy electric piano riffs, “Light My Fire” catapulted Jim Morrison and The Doors to stardom in the United States, with a subsequent cover version by Puerto Rican artist Jos Feliciano bringing it even higher.
- #1: "This Guy's In Love With You" by Herb Alpert
- #2: "Hello, I Love You" by The Doors
- #3: "People Got to Be Free" by The Rascals
Typically, songs of the summer have a driving beat that makes you want to dance. This song does not, but its grateful lyrics and pleasant atmosphere make it a great listen while picnicking or lying back and looking at the stars with someone you love.
- #1: "In the Year 2525" by Zager & Evans
- #2: "Honky Tonk Women" by The Rolling Stones
- #3: "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James And The Shondells
The first certified one-hit-wonder of the chart, Zager & Evans never had another single reach Billboard's chart after “2525.” The minds of Americans were clearly on the future; the moon landing happened during the song's reign as #1 on the chart.
- #1: "(They Long to Be) Close to You" by Carpenters
- #2: "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" by Three Dog Night
- #3: "Make It With You" by Bread
The second Burt Bacharach- and Hal David-written track on this list—with “This Guy's In Love With You” being the first—this hit by The Carpenters was originally recorded by Herb Alpert as well, though that recording was scrapped. Good thing it was, as “Close To You” gave The Carpenters their first of three Grammys.
- #1: "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" by Bee Gees
- #2: "It's Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King
- #3: "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)" by The Raiders
“How can you stop the sun from shining? / What makes the world go ‘round?” The Bee Gees weren't the first to question everything in a love song, but this relaxed down-tempo ballad struck a chord with millions of Americans during the summer of 1971.
- #1: "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan
- #2: "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass
- #3: "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers
Though the terminology didn't exist at the time, today's youth would categorize “Alone Again” as a “depression bop.” A mid-tempo ballad with sentimental strings and self-pitying lyrics, the major-key bridge helps to salvage the song from being too depressing.
- #1: "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce
- #2: "Will It Go Round in Circles" by Billy Preston
- #3: "Brother Louie" by Stories
“Leroy Brown,” a story-driven song, tells the tale of a fearsome resident of the South Side of Chicago—that is, until he loses a fight badly. The song would inspire Freddie Mercury and lead to covers by Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin, and many others.
- #1: "Annie's Song" by John Denver
- #2: "(You're) Having My Baby" by Paul Anka with Odia Coates
- #3: "Feel Like Makin' Love" by Roberta Flack
An ode to his wife at the time, “Annie's Song” was written on a single ski lift trip and is another entry in the down-tempo ballad song of the summer category. “Let me lay down beside you / Let me always be with you.”
- #1: "One of These Nights" by Eagles
- #2: "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille
- #3: "Jive Talkin" by Bee Gees
Disco has come. The Eagles, with their prior songs mostly falling in the rock-country bucket, switched it up with “One Of These Nights” and its eponymous album. The four-on-the-floor drum pattern marks a significant shift for pop music leading into the ‘80s.
- #1: "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John & Kiki Dee
- #2: "Kiss And Say Goodbye" by The Manhattans
- #3: "Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band
The first duet on the list, but not the last, “Don't Go Breaking My Heart” is a quintessential summer bop, inspired by Motown and featuring two of Britain's hottest singers. The song recently got a bump due to its presence in “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic.
- #1: "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" by Andy Gibb
- #2: "Best of My Love" by The Emotions
- #3: "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher" by Rita Coolidge
A true disco track, Gibb's hit single stayed on top of the Billboard charts for three weeks. From the drumbeat to the slow strings to the falsetto singing in the chorus, the hallmarks of disco are all present for this track. Gibb had such an ear for songs of the summer that...
- #1: "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb
- #2: "Three Times a Lady" by Commodores
- #3: "Grease" by Frankie Valli
...he did it again in 1978. With “Shadow Dancing,” Gibb utilized those same disco hallmarks to create his final Billboard #1 single. Gibb was the first artist to have their first three singles all hit #1, according to Billboard.
- #1: "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer
- #2: "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward
- #3: "Good Times" by Chic
If Daft Punk didn't clue you in to Giorgio Moroder's legacy, the titan of disco also collaborated with Donna Summer for the 1979 disco hit “Bad Girls,” which became Summer's most successful single. The track would later serve as an inspiration to hip-hop artists, who frequently used it for samples.
- #1: "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" by Billy Joel
- #2: "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John
- #3: "Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)" by Paul McCartney and Wings
With an upbeat tempo, a time length under three minutes, and a saxophone solo, Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" may have been destined to be a summer hit. This single was the first of Joel's to hit #1 on Billboard; it also appeared on his "Glass Houses" album, which stayed at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart for six weeks in 1980.
- #1: "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield
- #2: "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes
- #3: "Endless Love" by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
“Jessie's Girl” still shows up in movies and TV nearly 40 years after its release. Its evergreen message of unrequited love and instantly catchy hook still captivate listeners in the present.
- #1: "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
- #2: "Hurts So Good" by John Cougar
- #3: "Abracadabra" by The Steve Miller Band
It doesn't get any more instantly recognizable than the opening chords of Survivor's platinum single. Inextricably intertwined with the famous montage scene from “Rocky III", “Eye of the Tiger” still finds its way onto workout playlists to this day.
- #1: "Every Breath You Take" by The Police
- #2: "Flashdance...What a Feeling" by Irene Cara
- #3: "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Eurythmics
The song that makes everyone go, “Aww ... wait, what is he saying?” The stalker anthem by English band The Police won two Grammys and has been named the most-played radio song of all time by BMI.
- #1: "When Doves Cry" by Prince
- #2: "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr.
- #3: "What's Love Got to Do With It" by Tina Turner
The unconventional first single from the mega-smash album Purple Rain, “When Doves Cry” was the top-selling single of 1984. With its experimental elements and minimalist production, it was an unconventional song of the summer, but a dominant one nonetheless, selling hundreds of thousands of copies.
- #1: "Shout" by Tears For Fears
- #2: "Everytime You Go Away" by Paul Young
- #3: "The Power Of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News
As Tears For Fears put it in another song, everybody wants to rule the world, and “Shout” certainly ruled 1985's summer. The power chords, gated reverb-heavy drums, and lengthy guitar solo all say that yes, it's the ‘80s.
- #1: "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna
- #2: "Glory of Love" by Peter Cetera
- #3: "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel
The ‘80s weren't just a time of musical transgression; lyrical content in pop hits began getting more controversial, sparking outrage from parents as teens tried desperately to get their hands on outrageous songs. The taboo topics covered by Madonna in her 1986 hit include teen pregnancy and abortion; just another way Madonna pushed the envelope.
- #1: "Alone" by Heart
- #2: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston
- #3: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2
Arguably beating out two better-known hits, “Alone” is a power ballad in the truest sense of the word, eventually leading to covers by Celine Dion and Carrie Underwood. This song is clearly not for the faint of lungs.
- #1: "Roll With It" by Steve Winwood
- #2: "The Flame" by Cheap Trick
- #3: "Monkey" by George Michael
“Roll With It” was clearly inspired by Motown—a little too closely, evidently, as Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland were eventually credited as co-writers on the track to avoid a copyright battle. Another encouraging summer bop, the second verse's lines, “Now there'll be a day you'll get there, baby / You'll hear the music play, you'll dance, baby,” rarely fail to cheer the listener up.
- #1: "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx
- #2: "Toy Soldiers" by Martika
- #3: "Cold Hearted" by Paula Abdul
A slow ballad, “Right Here Waiting” became a platinum single for Marx, selling more than 1 million copies. Marx ditches the synths and power drums and instead relies on a piano and a classical guitar for the stripped-back instrumentation of this relatively minimalist song.
- #1: "Vision of Love" by Mariah Carey
- #2: "She Ain't Worth It" by Glenn Medeiros feat. Bobby Brown
- #3: "Cradle of Love" by Billy Idol
In contrast to the last song, Mariah Carey is anything but restrained. Showing off her impressive whistle register, Mariah's vocals were uncharacteristic of the style at the time and led her debut single to make an unquestionable impression.
- #1: "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" by Bryan Adams
- #2: "Rush Rush" by Paula Abdul
- #3: "Unbelievable" by EMF
‘80s pop music, take your last breath. “I Do It For You” is one of the most successful singles of all time, sure, but its production is reflective of its time. The next year, a radically different sound would take over the summer airwaves—a sound that has barely let up since.
- #1: "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot
- #2: "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men
- #3: "Baby-Baby-Baby" by TLC
He likes big butts and he cannot lie. What else can you say about Sir Mix-A-Lot's perennial love song? “Baby Got Back” marks the beginning of hip-hop's dominance over the pop charts, also noticeable in the #2 and #3 slots, home to R&B staples Boyz II Men and TLC.
- #1: "Can't Help Falling In Love" by UB40
- #2: "Whoomp! (There It Is)" by Tag Team
- #3: "Weak" by SWV
One of the most covered songs of all time, Elvis Presley's hit got a new spin from British reggae band UB40 in 1993, reaching #1 in 13 countries. The thriller film “Sliver,” which the song was recorded for, fared worse; it was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards.
- #1: "I Swear" by All-4-One
- #2: "Stay (I Missed You)" by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
- #3: "Don't Turn Around" by Ace Of Base
“I Swear” was originally recorded by country artist John Michael Montgomery. Two months later, All-4-One dropped their version—a quintessential ‘90s slow jam. The track still has life as a wedding song, and yes, it does have a sax solo.
- #1: "Waterfalls" by TLC
- #2: "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)" by Monica
- #3: "One More Chance/Stay With Me" by The Notorious B.I.G.
T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli came up with one of the most successful R&B albums of all time with 1994's “CrazySexyCool.” “Waterfalls” is considered the group's signature song, detailing the precariousness of modern life and cautioning the listener against dreaming too big. “Waterfalls” was the first #1 song to mention the AIDS crisis, and also mentions drug dealing and promiscuity—one of many songs of the summer to contain controversial lyrics.
- #1: "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" by Los Del Rio
- #2: "You're Making Me High/Let It Flow" by Toni Braxton
- #3: "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman
Most listeners probably still have no idea what any of this song's lyrics mean, but can sing it (and do the dance) instantly. Food for thought: Macarena is about sex. Perhaps think twice before playing it at a young child's birthday party.
- #1: "I'll Be Missing You" by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans feat. 112
- #2: "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks
- #3: "MMMBop" by Hanson
The Police's mega-hit, "Every Breath You Take," made a comeback in “I'll Be Missing You.” The song was recorded in memory of The Notorious B.I.G., who was murdered earlier in 1997 and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Don't overlook “MMMBop” at #3, though.
- #1: "The Boy Is Mine" by Brandy & Monica
- #2: "You're Still the One" by Shania Twain
- #3: "Too Close" by Next
Boy meets girl. Boy meets another girl. Girl meets girl. 1998's song of the summer is created, or so the story goes. The first #1 hit for both Brandy and Monica, the song was inspired by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's duet “The Girl Is Mine,” released 16 years prior.
- #1: "Genie In a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera
- #2: "If You Had My Love" by Jennifer Lopez
- #3: "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Destiny's Child
1999's summer songs were dominated by strong women, and “Genie In A Bottle” is a strong example. Coming off the success of recording “Reflections” for the soundtrack of the Disney film “Mulan,” Aguilera's hit has been described as “uncomfortably adult,” given that she was 19 years old when it was released.
- #1: "Bent" by Matchbox Twenty
- #2: "It's Gonna Be Me" by 'N Sync
- #3: "Try Again" by Aaliyah
Alternative rock was a dominating force in music in the early 2000s, though “Bent” is the only major example on this list. Matchbox Twenty's only single to hit #1, “Bent” has a theme of love despite flaws, which remains relatable even as the musical style goes out of fashion.
- #1: "U Remind Me" by Usher
- #2: "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve feat. Gwen Stefani
- #3: "Hanging by a Moment" by Lifehouse
Boy meets girl. Girl looks like boy's ex-girlfriend, so boy backs out of a relationship. Maybe it's not the most relatable situation for everyone, but it was all the rage in 2001. Winning Usher his first of eight Grammys, the mid-tempo track was impossible to avoid.
- #1: "Hot In Herre" by Nelly
- #2: "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne
- #3: "Dilemma" by Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
The chorus of "Hot In Herre"—“It's getting hot in here / So take off all your clothes”—is instantly memorable and still prominently remembered by popular culture. Probably the only R&B smash hit to sample Neil Young, it was also included in the video game "The Sims 4." In the game universe, the Sims characters speak a dialect called Simlish, so the song's lyrics were updated accordingly. If you love this song, but are frequently around small children, try this version.
- #1: "Crazy In Love" by Beyonce feat. Jay-Z
- #2: "Magic Stick" by Lil Kim feat. 50 Cent
- #3: "Right Thurr" by Chingy
Beyonc's debt single as a solo act after the dissolution of Destiny's Child, the song was later declared the best of the decade by VH1. An incredibly widely covered song, “Crazy In Love” has cemented its place as one of the most instantly recognizable pop songs of all time.
- #1: "Confessions Part II" by Usher
- #2: "Slow Motion" by Juvenile feat. Soulja Slim
- #3: "Burn" by Usher
Usher pops up for the second time on this list in 2004, snagging both the #1 and #3 spots. In the song, he admits to his girlfriend that he impregnated a mistress by the name (Amy).
- #1: "We Belong Together" by Mariah Carey
- #2: "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani
- #3: "Don't Cha" by The Pussycat Dolls feat. Busta Rhymes
A single from her 10th studio album, “We Belong Together” was widely considered Mariah's comeback single, and come back she did. The song is one of the most successful of all time, taking influence from R&B and hip-hop's ubiquitous Roland 808 drum machine to craft a genre-blending hit.
- #1: "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland
- #2: "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira
- #3: "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
This Grammy-nominated duet was warmly received by critics. It beat out two fierce competitors to make song of the summer; “Hips Don't Lie” and “Crazy” also still find frequent airplay over a decade later.
- #1: "Umbrella" by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z
- #2: "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie
- #3: "Party Like A Rockstar" by Shop Boyz
Of all the things to consider when releasing a big single, weather generally isn't one of them. However, the 2007 floods in the United Kingdom just happened to keep the song on the radio for weeks and weeks. Rihanna still dominates the pop culture conversation to this day, proving her voice, music, and business acumen are more than enough to succeed in the music industry.
- #1: "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry
- #2: "Take A Bow" by Rihanna
- #3: "Lollipop" by Lil Wayne feat. Static Major
You may not have heard of Max Martin, but you've certainly heard his music. The secretive Swedish producer is behind many of the hits of this decade, including 2008's “I Kissed A Girl.” Perry walked in the shoes of previous artists such as Madonna in releasing a single that's controversial but oh-so-catchy.
- #1: "I Gotta Feeling" by The Black Eyed Peas
- #2: "Boom Boom Pow" by The Black Eyed Peas
- #3: "Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West & Ne-Yo
“I Gotta Feeling” and “Boom Boom Pow” occupied both the #1 and #2 spots on the Billboard chart, respectively, in June 2009, making The Black Eyed Peas one of a select few groups to achieve that feat. The former Grammy-winning track is one of the best-selling singles of the 21st century, with its timeless theme of positivity and hope.
- #1: "California Gurls" by Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
- #2: "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem feat. Rihanna
- #3: "Airplanes" by B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams
Katy Perry is back with another infectious anthem, again produced by Max Martin among others. A West Coast competitor to 2009's “Empire State of Mind,” “California Gurls” was instantly deemed the song of the summer and its performance on the charts did not disappoint.
- #1: "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock
- #2: "Give Me Everything" by Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer
- #3: "Rolling In The Deep" by Adele
LMFAO, the uncle-nephew duo descended from Motown giant Berry Gordy, Jr., had incredible success from 2010 until their breakup in 2012 and dominated the airwaves with “Party Rock Anthem,” one of the most successful songs of all time. The group popularized the dance move the Melbourne Shuffle through their music video for the track and the refrain “Every day I'm shufflin'!”
- #1: "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
- #2: "Payphone" by Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa
- #3: "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye feat. Kimbra
Canadian pop queen and gay icon Carly Rae Jepsen burst onto the scene with “Call Me Maybe,” though it was originally written as a folk song. Much of the initial popularity was thanks to a tweet by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, who were dating at the time; Jepsen was immediately signed by Scooter Braun, Bieber's longtime manager.
- #1: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell
- #2: "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons
- #3: "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams
“Blurred Lines” has since become controversial for several reasons, including its misogynistic lyrics and a copyright battle with Marvin Gaye's family and label over similar elements in the song. Despite these controversies, the song is catchy, and thus had a solid run on the radio, beating out dubstep-inspired “Radioactive” and vintage throwback “Get Lucky.”
- #1: "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX
- #2: "Rude" by MAGIC!
- #3: "Problem" by Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
The most-streamed song on Spotify, which was quickly gaining users at the time, “Fancy” became one of the biggest hits for rising stars Charli XCX and Iggy Azalea; Billboard even named it the best-selling hit by a female rapper of all time. Azalea also features on the #3 spot, Ariana Grande's song “Problem.”
- #1: "Cheerleader" by OMI
- #2: "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth
- #3: "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
OMI, a Jamaican singer, worked on “Cheerleader” for years before finding success in his home country and later around the world. Though it took its time, it eventually became a global smash hit, and proved that Spotify was just as important to monitor as the radio stations in determining which songs are gaining traction.
- #1: "One Dance" by Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla
- #2: "Can't Stop The Feeling!" by Justin Timberlake
- #3: "Don't Let Me Down" by The Chainsmokers feat. Daya
One of the best-selling singles of all time from one of the best-selling artists of all time, “One Dance” saw Drake clearly cracking the pop formula of delivering catchy hits time and time again that fuse pop with hip-hop. Mixing elements from dancehall, Afrobeat, and traditional pop, “One Dance” dominated the airwaves in 2016 and featured prominently on year-end lists from music critics.
- #1: "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber
- #2: "That's What I Like" by Bruno Mars
- #3: "I'm the One" by DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper & Lil Wayne
The final foreign language song on this list, “Despacito” (“Slowly”) enlisted the help of Justin Bieber to turn an already-popular song into a record-smashing hit. In its wake, many other Latin pop artists have gained prominence in English-speaking markets, which has been called the “Despacito effect.”
- #1: "In My Feelings" by Drake
- #2: "I Like It" by Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin
- #3: "Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 feat. Cardi B
And finally, the second coming of Drake with this smash hit from his double LP “Scorpion.” It checks all the boxes for a modern song of the summer: instant catchiness, viral dances, and a blend of genres such as hip-hop and New Orleans bounce.
While it remains to be seen what will take the crown for Billboard's 2019 song of the summer, the future of pop success lies in genre-blending virality.
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